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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Polling “the Petraeus Plan”

Now that Petraeus Week is over, and Bush has made his Big Speech announcing he’s willing to consider withdrawing enough troops by next July to bring us back to exactly where we were the day after the 2006 elections, the spin wars over how Americans (and Iraqis) will react are beginning in earnest. And for those of us who like the idea of clarity, one of the first shots out of the block, a Rasmussen poll on “the Petraeus Plan” for Iraq, is truly infuriating.
In fairness, the pollsters quizzed Americans about the “Petraeus recommendations” for Iraq, to wit that the U.S. “withdraw 30,000 soldiers from Iraq but leave 130,000 troops in place at least through the summer.” But the initial media report on the poll, in The Hill, changed “recommendations” to “plan,” so we have poll results supposedly showing a plurality of Americans–43 percent to 38 percent–supporting the self-same “Petraeus Plan” that Bush “embraced” last night. That looks like a pretty big shift in sentiment on Iraq, eh? Particularly when the poll shows only a bare majority of Democrats oppose the Petraeus Plan.
The problem with the poll, of course, other than enabling Bush’s effort to make it look like the military, and a particularly popular general, are actually controlling the overall war strategy, is this: are people responding to the question focused on the idea of withdrawing troops, or the idea of leaving troops? Do they know the “Petraeus Plan” makes troop withdrawals contingent on political progress, or that most of the the withdrawals would occur nearly a year from now? And do they know the relationship of pre- and post-surge troops levels?
I’m sure other polls, using better methodology and better questions than Rasmussen’s, will soon come out. But the last thing America needs right now is “evidence” that seems to support the already rampant idea in GOP circles that Bush’s massive bait-and-switch tactics for continuing the same policies indefinitely are producing some sea-change in public opinion. We are talking about people, as Ron Brownstein reminded us in a L.A. Times column today, who have convinced themselves that their 2006 defeat was a mandate for a more right-wing Republican Party (and even, as you may recall from the early conservative line on the “surge,” for an escalation of military action in Iraq). They don’t need any further encouragement for their delusions.

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